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EXCERPTS FROM HUMANISTIC RELIGION -- The Rush to Embrace Darwinism

1. (From ROCKS OF AGES -- THE FOSSIL RECORD)

Life's Upside-Down Tree. The First Failed Prediction
The theory predicted not merely that transitional forms would be found, but implied that the complete record would consist mainly of transitionals; what we think of as fixed species would turn out to be just arbitrary waystations in a process of continual change. Hence, what we should find is a tree-like branching structure following the lines of descent from a comparatively few ancient ancestors of the major groups, radiating outward from a well-represented trunk and limb formation laid down through the bulk of geological time as new orders and classes appear, to a profusion of twigs showing the diversity reached in the most recent times. In fact, this describes exactly the depictions of the "Tree of Life" elaborately developed and embellished in Victorian treatises and familiar to museum visitors and anyone conversant with textbooks in use up to quite recent times.

But such depictions figure less prominently in the books that are produced today-- or more commonly are omitted altogether. The reason is that the story actually told by the fossils in the rocks is the complete opposite. The Victorians' inspiration must have stemmed mainly from enthusiasm and conviction once they knew what the answer had to be. Species, and all the successively higher groups composed of species--genus, family, order, class, phylum--appear abruptly, fully differentiated and specialized, in sudden epochs of innovation just as the Catastrophists had always said, without any intermediates leading up to them or linking them together. The most remarkable thing about them is their stability thereafter--they remain looking pretty much the same all the way down to the present day, or else they become extinct. Furthermore, the patterns seen after the appearance of a new population are not of divergence from a few ancestral types, but once again the opposite of what such a theory predicted. Diversity was most pronounced early on, becoming less, not greater, with time as selection operated in the way previously maintained, weeding out the less suited. So compared to what we would expect to find, the tree is nonexistent where it should be in the greatest evidence, and what does exist is upside down.

Darwin and his supporters were well aware of this problem from the ample records compiled by their predecessors. In fact, the most formidable opponents of the theory were not clergymen but fossil experts. Even Lyell had difficulty in accepting his own ideas of gradualism applied to biology, familiar as he was with the hitherto undisputed Catastrophist interpretation. But ideological fervor carried the day, and the generally agreed answer was that the fossil record as revealed at the time was incomplete. Now that the collectors knew what to look for, nobody had any doubt that confirming evidence would quickly follow in plenitude. In other words, the view being promoted even then was a defense against the evidence that existed, driven by prior conviction that the real facts had to be other than what they seemed.

Well, the jury is now in, and the short answer is that the picture after a century and a half of assiduous searching is, if anything, worse now than it was then. Various ad hoc reasons and speculations have been put forward as to why, of course. But the fact remains that if evolution means the gradual transformation of one kind of organism into another, the outstanding feature of the fossil record is its absence of evidence for evolution. Elaborate gymnastics to explain away failed predictions is almost always a sign of a theory in trouble.

The plea of incompleteness of the fossil record is no longer tenable. Exhaustive exploration of the strata of all continents and across the ocean bottoms have uncovered formations containing hundreds of billions of fossils. The world's museums are filled with over 100 million fossils of 250,000 species. Their adequacy as a record may be judged from estimates of the percentage of known, living forms that are also found as fossils. They suggest that the story that gets preserved is much more complete than many people think. Of the 43 living orders of terrestrial vertebrates, 42, or over 97 percent, are found as fossils. Of the 329 families of terrestrial vertebrates the figure is 79 percent, and when birds (which tend to fossilize poorly) are excluded, 87 percent. What the record shows is clustered variations around the same basic designs over and over again, already complex and specialized, with no lines of improvement before or links in between. Forms once thought to have been descended from others turn out have been already in existence at the time of the ancestors that supposedly gave rise to them. On average, a species persists fundamentally unchanged for over a million years before disappearing--which again happens largely in periodic mass extinctions rather than by the gradual replacement of the ancestral stock in the way that gradualism requires. This makes nonsense of the proposition that the bat and the whale evolved from a common mammalian ancestor in a little over ten millions years, which would allow at the most ten to fifteen "chronospecies" (a segment of the fossil record judged to have changed so little as to have remained a single species) aligned end to end to effect the transitions.

Flights of Fancy. The Birds Controversy
It goes without saying that the failure to find connecting lines and transitional forms hasn't been from want of trying. The effort has been sustained and intensive. Anything even remotely suggesting a candidate receives wide acclaim and publicity. One of the most well known examples is Archeopteryx, a mainly birdlike creature with fully developed feathers and a wishbone, but also a number of skeletal features such as toothed jaws, claws on its wings, and a bony, lizard-like tail that at first suggest kinship with a small dinosaur called Compsognathus and prompted Huxley to propose originally that birds were descended from dinosaurs. Presented to the world in 1861, two years after the publication of Origin, in Upper Jurrasic limestones in Bavaria conventionally dated at 150 million years, its discovery couldn't have been better timed to encourage the acceptance of Darwinism and discredit skeptics. Harvard's Ernst Mayr, who has been referred to as the "Dean of Evolution," declared it to be "the almost perfect link between reptiles and birds," while a paleontologist is quoted as calling it a "holy relic . . . The First Bird."

Yet the consensus among paleontologists seems to be that there are too many basic structural differences for modern birds to be descended from Archeopteryx. At best it could be an early member of a totally extinct group of birds. On the other hand, there is far from a consensus as to what might have been its ancestors. The two evolutionary theories as to how flight might have originated are "trees down," according to which it all began with exaggerated leaps leading to parachuting and gliding by four-legged climbers; and "ground up," where wings developed from the insect-catching forelimbs of two-legged runners and jumpers. Four-legged reptiles appear in the fossil record well before Archeopteryx and thus qualify as possible ancestors by the generally accepted chronology, while the two-legged types with the features that would more be expected of a line leading to birds don't show up until much later.

This might make the trees-down theory seem more plausible at first sight, but it doesn't impress followers of the relatively new school of biological classification known as "cladistics," where physical similarities and the inferred branchings from common ancestors is all that matters in deciding what gets grouped with what. (Note that this makes the fact of evolution an axiom.) Where the inferred ancestral relationships conflict with fossil sequences, the sequences are deemed to be misleading and are reinterpreted accordingly. Hence, by this scheme, the animals with the right features to be best candidates as ancestors to Archeopteryx are bird-like dinosaurs that lived in the Cretaceous, tens of millions of years after Archeopteryx became extinct. To the obvious objection that something can't be older than its ancestor, the cladists respond that the ancestral forms must have existed sooner than the traces that have been found so far, thus reintroducing the incompleteness-of-the-fossil-record argument but on a scale never suggested even in Darwin's day. The opponents counter that in no way could the record be that incomplete, and so the dispute continues. In reality, therefore, the subject abounds with a lot more contention than pronouncements of almost-perfection and holy relics would lead the outside world to believe.

The peculiar mix of features found in Archeopteryx are not particularly conclusive of anything in themselves. In the embryonic stage some living birds have more tail vertebrae than Archeopteryx, which later fuse. There are birds today such as the Venezuelan hoatzin, the South African touraco, and the ostrich that have claws. Archeopteryx had teeth, whereas modern birds don't, but many ancient birds did. Today, some fish have teeth while others don't, some amphibians have teeth and others don't, and some mammals have teeth but others don't. It's not a convincing mark of reptilian ancestry. I doubt if many humans would accept that the possession of teeth is a throwback to a primitive, reptilian trait.

2. (From ANYTHING, EVERYTHING, AND ITS OPPOSITE: NATURAL SELECTION)

Moth Myths. The Crowning Proof?
A consequence of such illogic is that simple facts which practically define themselves become heralded as revelations of great explanatory power. Take as an example the case of the British Peppered Moth, cited in virtually all the textbooks as a perfect demonstration of "industrial melanism" and praised excitedly as living proof of evolution in action before our eyes. In summary, the story describes a species of moth found in the British Midlands that were predominantly light-colored in earlier times but underwent a population shift in which a dark strain became dominant when the industrial revolution arrived and tree trunks in the moths' habitat were darkened by smoke and air pollution. Then, when cleaner air resulted from the changes in modern times and the trees lightened again, the moth population reverted to its previous balance. The explanation given is that the moths depend on their coloring as camouflage to protect them from predatory birds. When the tree barks were light, the lighter-colored variety of moths was favored, with darker barks the darker moths did better, and the changing conditions were faithfully mirrored in the population statistics. Indeed, all exactly in keeping with the expectations of "evolution" as now understood.

The reality, however, is apparently more complicated. Research has shown that in at least some localities the darkening of the moths precedes that of the tree barks, suggesting that some common factor--maybe a chemical change in the air--affects both of them. Further, it turns out that the moths don't normally rest on the trunks in daylight, and in conditions not artificially contrived for experiments, birds in daylight are not a major influence. The textbook pictures were faked by gluing dead moths to tree trunks.

But even if the facts were as presented, what would it all add up to, really? Light moths do better against a light background, whereas dark moths do better against a dark background. This is the Earth-shattering outcome after a century and a half of intensive work? Both light strains and dark strains of moth were already present from the beginning. Nothing changed or mutated; nothing genetically new came into existence. If we're told that of a hundred soldiers sent into a jungle wearing jungle camouflage garb along with a hundred in arctic whites, more of the former were still around a week later, are we supposed to conclude that one kind "evolved" into another, or that anything happened that wouldn't have been obvious to common sense? If that's what we're told "evolution" in the now-accepted use of the word means, then so be it. But now we'll need a different word to explain how moths came into existence in the first place. Yet along with such examples as Archaeopteryx and the Horse Series, the Peppered Moth is offered as proof that sets the theory on such incontestable grounds that to doubt it is evidence of being dim witted or malicious.

3. (From LIFE AS INFORMATION PROCESSING)

Evolution Means Accumulating Information
The cell can be likened to a specialized computer that executes the DNA program and expresses the information contained in it. Cats, dogs, horses, and Archaeopteryxes don't really evolve, of course, but live their spans and die still being genetically pretty much the same as they were when born. What evolves, according to the theory, is the package of genetic information that gets passed down from generation to generation, accumulating and preserving beneficial innovations as it goes. The species that exists at a given time is a snapshot of the genome expressing itself as it stands at the point it has reached. Although the process may be rapid at times and slow at others, every mutation that contributes to the process adds something on average. This is another way of saying that to count as a meaningful evolutionary step, a mutation must add some information to the genome. If it doesn't, it contributes nothing to the building up of information that the evolution of life is said to be.

No mutation that added information to a genome has ever been observed to occur, either naturally or in the laboratory. This crucial requirement disqualifies all the examples that have been presented in scientific papers, reproduced in textbooks, and hyped in the popular media as "evolution in action." We already saw that the case of the Peppered Moth involves no genetic innovation; what it demonstrates is an already built-in adaptation capacity, not evolution. This isn't to say that mutations never confer survival benefits in some circumstances. Such occurrences are rare, but they do happen. However, every one that has been studied turns out to be the result of information being lost from a genome, not gained by it.

Bacterial Immunity Claims: A False Information Economy
A frequently cited example is that of bacteria gaining resistance to streptomycin and some other mycin drugs, which they are indeed able to do by a single point mutation. The drug molecule works by attaching to a matching site on a ribosome (protein-maker) of the bacterium, rather like a key fitting into a lock, and interfering with its operation. The ribosome strings the wrong amino acids together, producing proteins that don't work, as a result of which the bacterium is unable to grow, divide, or propagate, and is wiped out. Mammalian ribosomes don't have similar matching sites for the drug to attach to, so only the bacteria are affected, making such drugs useful as antibiotics. However, several mutations of the bacterial genome are possible that render the drug's action ineffective. In a populations where one of them occurs, it will be selected naturally to yield a resistant strain which in the presence of the antibiotic indeed has a survival benefit.

But the "benefit" thus acquired turns out to be a bit like gaining immunity to tooth decay by losing your teeth. Every one of the resistance-conferring mutations does so by altering one part or another of the ribosome "lock" in such a way that the drug's molecular "key" will no longer match. This is another way of saying that the specific set of lock parts that enables the key fit is replaced by one of several randomly determined alternative sets that it won't fit. The significant point is that a single, unique state is necessary to bring about the first condition, "key fits," whereas any one of a number of states is sufficient to produce the second condition, "key doesn't fit." Thinking of it as a combination lock, only one combination of all digits will satisfy the first condition, but altering any digit (or more) meets the second. This makes a number less specific--such as by changing 17365 to 173X5, where X can be any digit. Loss of specificity means a loss of information. The same applies to pests becoming resistant to insecticides such as DDT. Although a survival benefit may be acquired in certain circumstances, the mutant strains invariably show impairment in more general areas, such as by slowed metabolism or sluggish behavior. Hence, they turn out to be not "super species" at all, as the media love to sensationalize, but genetic degenerates which if the artificial conditions were taken away would rapidly be replaced by the more all-round-rugged wild types.

Losing the genes that grow teeth might produce a strain of survivors in a situation where all the food that required chewing was poisoned and only soup was safe. But it couldn't count as meaningful in any evolutionary sense. If evolution means the gradual accumulation of information, it can't work through mutations that lose it. A business can't accumulate a profit by losing money a bit at a time.

 
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